It was a return to winning ways for our youngsters at Cobham this morning as they scored two first-half goals to dispatch Reading.
George Nunn opened the scoring with less than two minutes on the clock, the striker turning in a low cross from close range, before Thierno Ballo doubled the tally midway through the first period. There could have been far more goals after an eventful first half, with Reading twice striking the woodwork and spurning presentable openings.
The second period was a far more controlled contest with Ballo going closest to a third but denied by the visiting goalkeeper. The points keep us third in the southern section, trailing Arsenal and the leaders Tottenham.
Manager Andy Myers made one change from last weekend’s 0-0 draw away at Fulham, replacing Dynel Simeu at centre-back with Pierre Ekwah Elimby but maintaining his three-man defence with Jack Wakely and Sam McClelland alongside the Frenchman.
Jake Askew continued in goal, with Ian Maatsen and Marcel Lavinier at wing-back and Clinton Mola next to Jon Russell in central midfield. Nunn led the line up front supported in attack by Ballo and Marcel Lewis.
Myers’s men had dropped their first points since August seven days previously and missed the opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table, while Reading started the day six places and 13 points behind the third-placed Blues. It had been a morning of frustration at Fulham, with so many chances created yet nobody able to find a breakthrough, yet those dropped points were quickly banished from memory with a super start at rainy Cobham.
The hosts found the net with less than two minutes on the clock as a quick counter-attack paid dividends down the left. Lewis picked up possession and moved it outside to the overlapping Maatsen, who whipped an inviting low delivery across the face of goal to give Nunn the simple task of guiding the ball in from close range.
It was the striker’s third goal of the season and his first since September, a welcome return to form in front of goal for the 17-year-old, who recently signed professional terms at the club. However, the Royals responded swiftly and could have been level within minutes.
The retreating Wakely fell to the floor but failed to win a free-kick and the visitors almost took advantage. Jack Nolan curled an effort against the far post and then Askew saved with his feet from Khalid Simmo on the rebound before Thierry Nevers had a follow-up shot blocked.
It was a clear warning that seemingly went unheeded as Nevers went close again after 11 minutes, advancing down the inside-left channel before steering the ball wide of the near post. Reading were enjoying the better of things but knew they would have to be more clinical to compete.
Jokull Andresson, the away goalkeeper, had little chance with Nunn’s opener but the Icelandic teenager was able to influence proceedings more effectively for his team midway through the half, springing off his line to smother the ball at the feet of our number nine. Russell then saw a fierce effort blocked before Lewis wasted a good chance, firing over the bar from 10 yards out having been neatly teed up by Nunn.
Lewis was more controlled with his striking as he played his part in our second goal of the morning. It was the same combination, Nunn providing for the winger to take aim, and his shot this time forced a save from Andresson, with the rebound falling kindly for Ballo to turn into an unguarded net.
Reading were winless for three months in all competitions, their last victory coming on the first day of September, and the task ahead appeared a daunting one, with the Blues having lost just once at home in nearly four years. Much of that home dominance has come from hard work and a superiority over our opponents, although good fortune is always required throughout such runs and luck was on our side again as the interval approached.
Shamar Moore escaped in behind down the right flank and his cross eventually found its way to Nolan on the edge of the box. The lively England Under-17 international fashioned enough space to get in a shot and the effort pinballed through the area before bouncing up into the grateful arms of Askew.
The advantage was 2-0 at half-time but there could have been another two or three goals before the break. Nunn’s angled drive from the left whistled just over Andresson’s crossbar, while Lewis screwed wide of the far post from the opposite side. Down the other end, Reading struck the woodwork again as Nolan’s effort from distance flew through the air and clipped the top of the bar.
Simmo spurned a glorious chance in the final stages of the half, somehow missing the target from a central position eight yards out, and the Blues could count themselves fortunate to have their clean sheet intact as they returned to the dressing room for a mid-point debrief.
The second half started with far less action, perhaps a consequence of both managers reinforcing the need for defensive improvement. Ballo’s pace took him away from the challenge of Josh Hewitt but a layoff towards Lewis was cut out just in time by a covering defender.
It was the Austrian who looked most likely to inspire another goal in a quiet half and he was denied a second after an hour following our brightest move of the game. Neat and quick passing helped the hosts carve a way through the centre to release Ballo one-on-one but Andresson was equal to the forward’s low attempt and turned the ball away to safety.
Reading pushed and probed but were unable to find such a routine route to goal as before the break. Wakely and McClelland defended the box well when required, while an extension to the scoreline was threatened in the opposite 18-yard box as Wakely rose highest to meet Maatsen’s corner and forced a flying save from Coniah Boyce-Clarke, the substitute keeper.
Another arrival from the bench then went close with the clock ticking towards the game’s conclusion. A long ball forward released Armando Broja running into space down the right and he toyed with Bristow before moving clear of the full-back, though his shot was fired straight at Boyce-Clarke.
It proved the last notable action of a competitive and entertaining contest, with the home side sealing their fourth clean sheet in five games and another three points on the board. They return to action next weekend with a trip to Manchester United in the final Under-18 Premier League Cup group game.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Jake Askew; Sam McClelland, Jack Wakely (c), Pierre Ekwah Elimby; Marcel Lavinier (Jordan Aina 81), Clinton Mola, Jon Russell (Armando Broja 73), Ian Maatsen; Thierno Ballo, Marcel Lewis (Henry Lawrence 60); George Nunn
Unused subs Ethan Wady, Dynel Simeu
Scorers Nunn 2; Ballo 28
Reading Jokull Andresson (Coniah Boyce-Clarke 66), Jake Pemberton (c), Ethan Bristow, Ollie Pendlebury, Marcel Elva-Fountaine, Josh Hewitt, Khalid Simmo, Conor Lawless, Shamar Moore (Claudio Osario 66), Jack Nolan, Thierry Nevers
Unused subs Dejan Tetek, Nelson Abbey
-Pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom